Timberwolves

The Wolves Need Their Complementary Players At Their Best In Round 1

Photo Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

In a three-game season series against the Phoenix Suns, the Minnesota Timberwolves struggled to get anything going offensively or defensively. The Suns affected Minnesota’s flow, forcing them to make a lot of mistakes.

Credit Frank Vogel and his staff for employing a strategy that has limited Minnesota’s strengths, something no other team in the league has done this year. With the defensive attention they have placed on Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards this year, Minnesota’s complimentary players will have to show up in a big way to give it any chance of advancing to Round 2. “They’re putting three people on me, so I’ve just got to make the right reads and trust my teammates,” said Edwards. “When my teammates hit those shots, they’re going to have to eventually get out of it.”

In two games against the Suns this season, Towns averaged 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. In three games against Phoenix, Edwards averaged 14.3 points, 6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Towns and Edwards have found breaking the Suns’ defense challenging because it forces them to give the ball up. Whenever the ball was in their hands in Sunday’s 125-106 loss, Phoenix’s defense focused on making sure both of Minnesota’s AllStars gave it up.

Phoenix clogged the lanes to the rim when the Wolves attacked the basket. Towns didn’t have much space on the perimeter to be a three-point threat. The Timberwolves finished the game with 24 turnovers, 19 in the first half. In their upcoming playoff series, there will be ample opportunities for the Wolves to exploit the Suns’ defensive coverage if they can use their time off this week to understand what they are doing to disrupt their offense.

The Suns were placing heavy pressure on Towns and Edwards, leaving other players open for three-point shots. However, Phoenix made it difficult for them to execute in those moments. Maybe Minnesota’s players had tunnel vision, or the Suns simply executed their coverage effectively as they have in every matchup thus far. Either way, the Wolves must find a way to punish the defense when three to five Suns players are so focused on one player.

Minnesota’s bench has been excellent this season, but they’ve struggled against the Suns. In particular, Naz Reid, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Jaden McDaniels have all struggled to make a difference. They will have to be at their best for the Wolves to get different results against Phoenix than in the regular season.

McDaniels has struggled with his three-point shot this season, and he has only made one against Phoenix in three games this year. That’s unfortunate, given the many expectations around the organization have for him. But in this series, he’ll have opportunities to make those shots, and the Suns will likely live with him making it. However, if he does, it opens up his ability to get deep positioning in the paint and rise above defenders for his mid-range shot.

Mike Conley could also have a big series if he can knock down threes and create scoring opportunities off the pick-and-roll with Gobert. He was one of Minnesota’s best players on Sunday and will likely have to continue to be aggressive offensively in this series.

Conley has effectively operated Minnesota’s offense during tough stretches this season, but even he has turned the ball over in this matchup with Phoenix. However, the veteran guard should be able to make adjustments that put the Wolves in a better position to make high-percentage decisions offensively. Chris Finch has been adamant about what Conley’s aggressiveness does for Minnesota.

The Wolves can’t force something that’s not there. In Sunday’s loss, we saw the officials call Towns for offensive fouls that plagued him earlier in the season. Edwards attacked the rim with force, as usual. But Phoenix stripped him of the ball or forced him to make a difficult layup. Ultimately, the Suns didn’t give Minnesota many open looks.

That has been a familiar sight against the Suns, and it’s a big reason why they’re probably the toughest matchup the Wolves could have drawn in the first round. Towns and Edwards will have to trust the open pass in hopes of it leading to a good shot. Make or miss, you can live with those results. It’ll take a total team effort to eliminate the Suns.

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